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Violence endangering aid for Darfur, UN says

GENEVA -- Escalating violence in the Sudanese region of Darfur is threatening aid for millions of people as increasing numbers of international staff come under attack, the UN humanitarian chief said yesterday.

''My warning is the following: If it continues to escalate, if it continues to be so dangerous on humanitarian work, we may not be able to sustain our operation for 2.5 million people requiring lifesaving assistance," said Jan Egeland, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

''It could all end tomorrow. It's as serious as that," he told reporters at UN offices in Geneva.

Egeland said the surge in violence -- whether by rebel forces, the government-backed militia, ethnic gangs, armed bandits, or even government forces -- was being directed increasingly at international aid workers.

''In the last few days, we have seen colleagues being harassed, attacked, robbed, or abducted every day. It cannot continue," he said. ''Truck drivers are now refusing to deliver lifesaving assistance to many areas, threatening our humanitarian operations and the lives of tens of thousands of displaced."

In New York, the UN Security Council expressed ''serious concern at recent reports of a resurgence of violence in Darfur" and backed talks between government officials and rebel forces in the Nigerian capital of Abuja.

Council members called on the Sudanese Liberation Movement, the Justice and Equality Movement, and the Sudanese government ''to negotiate in good faith with a view to reaching a peace agreement in Darfur by the end of 2005."

The crisis in Sudan's western region of Darfur erupted when rebels took up arms against what they saw as years of state neglect and discrimination against Sudanese of African origin. The government is accused of responding with a counterinsurgency campaign in which the ethnic Arab militia, known as Janjaweed, committed widespread abuses against ethnic Africans.

At least 180,000 people have died in the Darfur conflict -- many from hunger and disease. The fighting has driven some 2 million people from their homes.

The UN is providing food and medicine to some 2.5 million people in Darfur but has no security force there to help protect civilians and ensure that aid can be safely delivered.

The African Union maintains a force in Darfur of 6,000 troops, who can intervene if they witness human rights violations.

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